Amazon competitor Rakuten is launching the Rakuten Blockchain Lab (RBL) in Belfast, UK, to explore potential applications for blockchain technology in fintech and e-commerce.
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Rakuten Sets Up Blockchain Lab
The establishment of RBL stems from Rakuten’s earlier investment in Bitcoin wallet and payments software firm Bitnet, a startup notable for its founding by former Visa executives.
Despite raising over $14.5 million USD in Series A funding in October 2014 (which included Rakuten) and garnering huge attention due to its “traditional” payments world heritage, it never really challenged existing big players like Coinbase and recently suffered high-level staff losses and cutbacks.
Rakuten will build RBL with Bitnet’s IP, two key staff and assets after buying what remained.
Yasufumi Hirai, Group Executive Vice President, CIO, CISO and head of the Technology Division, Rakuten, Inc., said:
Drawing on the significant IP assets and deep engineering expertise of the Bitnet team and combining that with Rakuten’s leadership in fintech and support of innovative solutions, the new Rakuten Blockchain Lab will be our first step toward unlocking blockchain’s potential to revolutionize the way that financial and e-commerce transactions are conducted.
Rakuten’s Bitcoin History
Japan-based Rakuten has grown its global business steadily over the past decade and more with a series of acquisitions in the e-commerce, finance and logistics world. It has over 10,000 employees worldwide and is often seen as a rival to Amazon.
Rakuten also has a long history of teasing the Bitcoin world with hints and trials. CEO Hiroshi Mikitani revealed his interest as far back as 2014 and said publicly his company would accept Bitcoin “sooner or later.”
US subsidy Rakuten Super Logistics ran a trial for Bitcoin payments starting August 2014, and Rakuten hosted a financial conference in January 2015 that featured a number of speakers from the Japanese and international Bitcoin business world.
E-commerce & Banking Services
Rakuten also operates an online insurance company and even its own bank (in Japan). It also acquired Japanese RFID card-based e-cash system Edy and integrated its own loyalty points into the system, effectively creating its own digital currency pegged to the yen.
Despite all that, however, there have not yet been any concrete moves to integrate Bitcoin into Rakuten’s primary e-commerce or financial businesses in Japan, and trials have all taken place at the company’s foreign subsidiaries.
Despite the name of acquired firm ‘Bitnet,’ there was no mention of the word “Bitcoin” in Rakuten’s official announcement, which opted for the more cautious “blockchain technology.”
How did Bitnet fail despite its high-profile backing? Will Rakuten see anything positive from its latest blockchain research?
Images courtesy of rakuten, techcrunch.com